American democracy: It survived the onslaught of anarchists on the right.
Democracy took a battering in the extraconstitutional attempt of tea party conservatives to undo the Affordable Care Act. Texas Senator Ted Cruz led House Republicans into a box canyon in a pointless quest to defund a law that had been passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, ratified by a subsequent election, and upheld by the Supreme Court.
Republicans achieved none of their goals in the reopening of the government and the lifting of the debt limit. They did not defund Obamacare, the original demand that led to the government shut down, nor did the realize any of their subsequent and shifting objectives.
Which is a result every American should applaud! It may mean that hostage taking as a tactic to repudiate legislative and electoral majorities no longer works.
It’s perhaps too much to hope that Cruz and his allies among the most conservative House members understand the lesson of this Republican debacle. Nor is there much reason to believe they understand how much the Republican brand has been sullied. For Cruz the fight is more important than victory, as he indicated Wednesday when he called the House vote to defund Obamacare “a remarkable victory.”
Time will tell whether the rest of the Republican Party understands how damaging this manufactured crisis has been for the party. House Speaker John Boehner, who could have avoided the shutdown by simply allowing a clean budget bill to come to the floor, said, “We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win.” With polls showing Republican favorability rankings at historic lows, Boehner and other, more moderate Republicans may finally realize that such “good fights” are futile; Boehner may be ready now to stop coddling the party’s right wing.
The 2014 and 2016 elections will be the ultimate arbiters of just how badly Republicans have been hurt. But it is undeniably true that all the soul searching after the 2012 election of how the Republican Party has to rebrand itself to appeal to minorities, women, and independents has failed, at least so far, to achieve results.
President Obama’s refusal to cave before rightwing demands has refurbished, for now, his image. It may be hard to remember, but at the end of the summer the president looked like a wounded lame duck, unable to get any of his legislation passed and vacillating on Syria policy. Obama has renewed strength as he enters budget negotiations with Congress.
Conservatives will continue their jeremiads against Obamacare, repeating a history of rightwing railing against every advance in the social safety net. Recall Ronald Reagan’s lament about the possibility that the Congress would pass Medicare: “If I don’t [fight Medicare], one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”
Well, Medicare passed; now, tea party conservatives inveigh against Obamacare while telling Congress to keep its “Hands off my Medicare.” Many forget that Medicare is a government program, more radical than the Affordable Care Act.
Repeal of Obamacare is extremely doubtful, even if Republicans win the White House and both houses of Congress in 2016. By then, Obamacare will be in full swing, and it will have a constituency that will fight to preserve it, just as Medicare has.
What’s next? The agreement ending the shutdown and averting a fiscal crisis merely kicked the can down the road, and we could go through the whole charade again in the early months of 2014.
Yet there is reason for optimism. Republican poll numbers are so low that cooler heads in the party may finally stand up to the radicals on the right and not let them shut down the government nor endanger the full faith and credit of the United States.
If that is the case, then democracy will indeed be the winner.